I am raising three men.
Caleb, Nathaniel, and Andrew are five, eight, and nine respectively.
"But," you might say, "They are only boys." You're right and wrong.
They are boys. At some future point they will become men. They are men-in-training, a fact I must never forget. The eighteenth birthday does not a man make. Nor does sixteen or twenty-one. Boys become men like a pile of steel becomes a soaring skyscraper. They are constructed from the ground up. External constraints form the foundation. The externals become internalized over time through ongoing reinforcement. In other words, I repeat myself a lot. As values harden they become load-bearing. Trials test character. Unrefined ore becomes steel. Weakness becomes strength. My role is that of architect, engineer, and foreman all in one. Therefore, I am building men.
Today's lesson: On Hitting.
Andrew: "He was hitting me."
Me: "Yes, I know. Did you need to hit back?"
Note: Andrew is a nine, almost ten-year-old junior black belt in Taekwondo. Andrew knows how to hit, hard. For the record, he chose not to hit back and instead came and told me about it. Did he want to hit back? Absolutely, and I don't blame him for feeling that way. Part of being male involves managing hardwired aggression. Men are naturally aggressive. We're designed that way for a reason. We don't need to apologize for it. But, we do need to own it and use our strength for good.
Back to Andrew...
Andrew: "I have the right to defend myself."
Me: "Yes, you do. But, you have to learn when to hit back and when not to. Were you really in danger? Was he really trying to hurt you?"
Me: "That's right. He wasn't. If your life is ever in danger you have my permission to use your skills. Daddy will back you to the hilt. But, I pray that day never comes. Don't hit back unless you absolutely have to. I'm proud of you for not striking back."
And the moral of today's lesson?
Me: “We use this first.” (finger taps the brow) Andrew, looking grave, nods. "Yes, daddy."
Me: “We us this last.” (fist comes to eye level, ready and hopefully always waiting) I smile big. Then Andrew smiles. I smile bigger and open my arms. We hug and the balance returns to the force and all is well.
My Boys: “We’re bored.”
Me: “Good, go deal with it.”
Heard this lately? I have…a lot. My three guys are typical for three, six, and nearly eight. Rough and tumble, curious, easily distracted, and wont to bounce off the furniture. But, press power and the laughter and giggles
and sib-bickering and tears stop. The house falls quiet. Thank God, I think because I can actually hear my own thoughts. The “Power” button changes everything and my three image-bearing hellions morph into laser-focused, butt-still, pacified kids. God knows I need the still. I crave the quiet. On occasion, pressing power to get it is okay. Really, it is. I even join my guys on occasion and zone with them, and then we talk about what we just watched. Those are some of the best conversations. But do you know what? “Tech time” is one of the worst things I can do for them on a regular basis. Notice that I said regular basis. I borrowed the term from my mother, the Great and Powerful Ree. Ree doesn’t do grandma. She does Ree and Ree is worthy of the underline. Ree has gotten to the core of this blog post. Media and tech are different. We consume one through or with the other. But, for the sake of brevity – you do get my point – Tech Time works nicely.
For the record, I am not opposed to TV or video games or media in general. I grew up with the first two in carefully metered doses. Ree knew what she was doing. Carefully metered for a reason. My parents just knew that reading a book was a better use of my time. They didn’t need a PSA or government study to tell them that. I know far more now about how the brain works than my parents did then. The science of neuroplasticity has taught me about how the brain changes. It adapts. It can learn and evolve. But it can also atrophy if not properly cared for and Tech Time is one of the worst offenders. Tech, when used inappropriately or overused in place of human interaction, sabotages the mind, and too much Tech Time comes with a price.
Media has changed a lot. More violence, more language, more mature themes. All. The. Time. Even little girls are sexed-up and our young women are taking it all off. Nothing is sacred anymore. If you just pictured a wrecking ball and Ms. Cyrus swinging across the screen, buck-naked with her tongue hanging out, then you know exactly what I mean.
More, more, and more of everything, literally at the push of a navigational button. Before we got wired, before the smartphone or iPad, before some of us had brick phones, the best-selling book Amusing Ourselves to Death made the case that cheap, on-demand, all-pervasive entertainment was killing us. Our journalism, our education, our on and off time is beholden to electronic media, round-the-watch. And the price is our ability to imagine, to play creatively, and to turn a pile of blocks into a maximum security fortress that G. I. Joe can’t break into, except Joe always finds a way. And you know what, when I shut of the tech my boys do too. Reluctantly, at first. But they manage to stumble and trip into Wonka’s World of Imagination.
This afternoon, I listened to my two oldest gripe about no TV or gaming on Sundays, for thirty minutes. None, at all. It’s one of our rules. We just check out on God’s day. If I don’t teach them to make Sunday a day of rest
– including taking a break from tech – they will never know what it means to unplug. But that’s Sunday. What about the rest of the week?
Rather than let this post devolve into a list of dos and don’ts or a pile of guilt – neither is my intention – here’s a list of suggestions that we’ve found helpful in managing Tech Time in our home:
1. Homework, reading, mealtimes, a goodaudio book, playing outside, and face-to-face communication
come first. Always. Tech Time is a treat, not a staple of our diets.
2. We consumer entertainment with our kids and then talk about it afterward. Turning Tech Time
into teachable moments gives us the chance to instill character and values and discernment into our children. And we stay educated on pop culture too.
3. If the show, toon, app or game mouths off, we shut it off. Clear enough. There are a half million words
in the English language. Colorful metaphors have a place, once in a while...when the boys are older. Like forty. But, for now…and most of the time, regardless of age, there is a more excellent way.
4. Toons or CGIs or human actors need to act in an age-appropriate way or they will not be allowed in our
home. Morals count, even onscreen. We all have a learning curve, even toons. There's grace for that. But if they aren't learning to make good choices then my guys can't learn from them - bye, bye, bye. If their morals don't sync with ours, hasta la vista. Decide what this means for your family and draw the line in the sand. Sponge Bob is outside the circle of trust because the sponge takes off his pants and trounces around in his underwear with his underwater friends. Call me toonaphobic, but little boys (and girls) need to understand that doing likewise is not okay. Ever. Bye, bye, bye Mr. No-pants.
5. When we’re in public, our ears are open, not shrouded with headphones or buds. First, we need to be aware of our surroundings. Cars, crying kids, a cry for help, or the footfalls behind us that shouldn’t be. Situational awareness is critical to our personal safety. We cannot afford to NOT hear what's happening around us. Secondly, zoning out in public is just plain rude. How can we teach our children to be empathetic and attentive and aware of the needs of others if we let them retreat into a hyper-narcissistic world of entertainment-on-demand?
6. It’s better to be bored than entertained. This goes for restaurants and public events too. Whenever I
see a family sitting down to share a meal, without tech, my heart warms. But I’m seeing more and more families in restaurants with their phones out and their eyes glazed over, kids zoning with tech while the parents talk...or don't talk as is often the case. Makes me so sad. Now don’t get me wrong. There are times…and believe me I’ve been there...when I just need some peace and quiet and I will do most anything to buy it. I am not a perfect parent, not by a kilometer. Tech time in a restaurant is fine…as long as it’s not regularly on the menu. Conversation should be the appetizer, not pacifying entertainment. If I let my sons habitually zone with media in restaurants just so I can have peace, I’m teaching them to zone others out too. Maybe even zone out me. To disengage from being human. I’m creating little narcissists. Better to deal with the chaos now instead of emotionally disabled kids later. We will all be the better for it.
This list is by no means exhaustive. it's not perfect either. But it’s a start. I’m a big believer in doing something verses nothing. Even a small measure of intention can pay huge dividends. No one is perfect. No. Not. One. I don’t hold myself to that standard and I’ll never apply it to you. But, I believe we all need to give this matter serious thought, if not for ourselves then for our kids, and for their futures. Think it over. Press power-off a little more. Make one change in the way your family consumes Tech Time and let me know how it goes.